Monday, November 16, 2009

The secret to inspiration

I say this a lot, but it's a tough journey. And over the past few weeks I've come to realize once again what an incredible journey it has been. I've been taking some time to reflect on the past 20 months and continue to reaffirm the fact that even though weight loss takes a lot of physical work -- the working out, the sweat, the exertion -- that it's the emotional work that can be the toughest to conquer.

As I near the fulfillment of my next goal (losing 200 pounds before Christmas), I get more and more people asking me what I've done to make this all work for myself. I've met so many incredible, supportive and wonderful people along the way -- people who inspire me in so many ways. And I've come to learn that I've inspired them.

Hmmm. Now there's something to wrap my head around. Maybe that's how I've done it...

I can understand how what I've accomplished would inspire someone. It's not every day that someone sets out to lose weight, and drops nearly 200 pounds in just under two years... without gimmicks. So, that part I understand. But what has been challenging to wrap my head around is understanding that who I am as a person -- not necessarily what I've accomplished -- is what's inspiring. And when I make a sour face or look puzzled when people give me that compliment, I have begun to wonder why I'm having this unusual reaction.

I have realized over the past few weeks that it takes a really strong mind to make the shift from being the one who seeks to be inspired, to being the one who inspires. I can't count the number of times I would sit at home after watching an episode of The Biggest Loser or some other show, and feel inspired. I however, would end up feeling crappy about myself, because in spite of the inspiration, I would be mad/upset/jealous that I didn't have someone filming my journey for a television show and somehow letting me in on 'the secret'.

At the end of the day, the secret is about balancing desire, hard work, and dedication. As I said before, it's about "
knowing that I not only gave myself the chance to succeed, but that I actually believed that I could do so." In many ways, it's about realizing that no matter how many episodes of The Biggest Loser or whatever show we watch, at some point, we have to decide to be our own inspiration.

For people like me who have struggled with weight and other issues, accepting the fact that you're a strong, beautiful, competent, and perfectly imperfect human can be tough to do. Years and years of beating yourself up for being out of shape, fat, and unattractive take their toll, and make it really tough to accept the possibility that you will ever become a different person altogether. And no matter how much we surround ourselves with support -- trainers, fitness instructors, therapists, coaches, family, friends, the list goes on -- at some point, we need to channel the energy we draw from those around us, and direct it towards fueling and finding our own inspiration. Undoubtedly, the support we draw from the people around is irreplaceable -- research (apparently) shows that engaging in a weight loss / fitness journey in the context of supportive relationships is more likely to yield a positive result. Yet, in spite of the tremendous amount of support that has surrounded me for example, one of the most difficult things to do has been to accept that support and turn it into something I can work with.

For some strange, twisted reason,
accepting the fact that people give a shit about you can be really tough...especially when it feels like other people care more about you than you care about yourself.

And I guess that's part of the secret, too. As I go further along my journey, I realize that such a big part of the secret is not only
making a conscious choice to embrace the possibility that you, as an individual, have the capacity and capability to not only make change in your life, but most importantly, to care enough to do so.

It's about making the choice to live life differently.
It's about truly living in possibility as opposed to living in fear of it.
It's about finding a way -- in whatever way possible, to discover, accept, and be proud of the fact that you are your own and strongest inspiration.

That's a pretty powerful thing. Couple the strength of that decision -- that unshakable, unquestionable determination -- with the resources and opportunity to eat well, exercise, and truly live our lives, and the secret is no longer that much of a mystery: No gimmicks. No quick fixes. Just a lot of work -- work of the body, the mind, and the soul, to make a decision that you will never regret.

That's the secret. That's the key. That, apparently, is inspiration.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fat? or Fit?

I can't believe that it's already November. The past few months have literally flown by -- and it's hard to believe that in just about a month and a half, I'm going to be heading out west for Christmas break at my parents' house in British Columbia. I'm looking forward to the getaway, but I'm also looking forward to seeing my sister from New Zealand, who I haven't seen in three years. She and I are quite close, and traveling this journey towards better health is something that I always thought I'd do with her by my side. Needless to say, the first moment that I see her is likely going to be an emotional one -- but it's going to be amazing.

I also had a reveal moment last week. My parents came to visit me here in Toronto for a week. I saw my dad in July at a family wedding in Pennsylvania, but I hadn't seen my mother since last Christmas. And even though I was already well on my way at this time last year, I was 110 pounds heavier. So I don't know what I was expecting, when I picked them up at the airport, but I was more than thrilled to know that she didn't recognize me and at one point wondered why my dad (who I saw first, coming out of the arrivals area) was hugging a strange man. Knowing that I look like a completely different person is something that I'm learning to get more comfortable with, but I have to admit that I still have moments where I wonder if I've really changed.

This morning, for example, I arrived at the spinning studio a bit early. It was a gorgeous fall day -- the perfect day for a run. So, I had decided to go for a light run before my spinning class. I arrived at Legacy, and one of the women who was there for this morning's boot camp class said that she didn't recognize me at first. I commented that it was my legs (because I was sporting a new pair of running tights, thanks to Dr. Steels!), and another one of the members said that it wasn't my legs. She could see a noticeable difference in my mid-section. Spinning has been a fantastic workout over the past two months. If you've read my two previous blog entries, you'll know what I high I get from them. In fact, I've dropped about 25 pounds since I started spinning, so I'm pretty thrilled with the results. And I do indeed notice a difference in the strength of my core, my flexibility, and also that my shirts, jackets and coats have a more generous fit through my mid-section. But at the end of the day, I still have moments where I take a look at my gut, and wonder if anything has really changed.

I carried a large percentage of my weight around my mid-section. As such, I've got a flabby belly, and the skin around my stomach is the least 'resilient'. Skin around other parts of my body has been quite elastic -- responding well to the work I've been doing, and nicely embracing the new and toned shape of my body and muscles. But my mid-section? Not to much. I was soaking in the tub the other night after an intense leg workout, and noticed just how much 'belly' still remains. And even though Sebastien tells me that the belly fat is the toughest and last to lose, there's still a part of me that wonders if it will ever really go away. Will I ever really get rid of it???

After spinning this morning, my friend Patsy and I took some time for one of my favourite weekend rituals: a coffee at Red Rocket Coffee in Toronto. As we were sitting outside enjoying our post-workout drinks, we were talking about all of the various things we've been doing to get fit. I always love a good long talk with Patsy, because she gets it. She understands where my head is at, and is always enthusiastic about trying new things. Over the course of our chat this morning, she stopped me at one point and said "We need to work on something. You have to stop calling yourself 'fat'."

I still think of myself as a fat man. I've dropped over 180 pounds and I still consider myself fat. I eat better than most nutrition books (except for the Skor brownie last night), and still refer to myself as fat. I ran 5km this morning and cranked out an intense spinning workout, and I still call myself fat. Combine all of these things with the fact that I still get disappointed because my gut is big and flabby, and I begin to wonder: "Will I always be 'fat'?"

There is a big part of me that thinks I will always be a fat man -- if not physically, then cognitively. And I'm not so sure I ever want to let go of that. I've been told (by others and myself) for a large part of my life that I'm not worthy of many things because I'm fat. I've been ridiculed, harassed, and objectified because I'm fat. And it's only in the past year or so that I've actually grown more comfortable calling myself 'fat'. I think there's a bit of reclamation happening here -- that I'm reclaiming the word 'fat' and using it myself to take the negative power away from it. And growing more comfortable saying the word, and describing myself in this way, I think has helped me to reach out to more people and advocate for fat people who want to actively make change in their lives. So I don't ever want to forget who I've been for the past 36 years -- and changing one word in how I describe myself is going to be much harder than I ever thought it would be.

There's a lot of power in language. There's profound meaning in the words we use to describe ourselves, and in how those descriptions link ourselves with people around us. And I still cringe sometimes when Sebastien calls me an 'athlete' or 'fit'. But it's going to take time for me to embrace these new ways of knowing and understanding myself -- especially at a time when I don't feel like the word necessarily matches who I am. How can I be 'fit' when I've got a big lump of flab around my mid-section? How can I be an 'athlete' when I weigh over 250 pounds? There is still a big part of me that's struggling to embrace the new person that I've become -- in part because I've programmed myself into thinking about who I am in only one way for so long. All I know is that it's going to take a while to re-program myself and my thinking to match the person I know I am well on my way to becoming.

So even though I run 5k, do spinning classes, and have such strong focus on my health and fitness, this is still a tough journey. It ain't easy. I still have moments where I have to stop myself in my thought patterns, and reprogram what I'm saying to myself so that I don't fall into old habits. I still have days when I'd love to stay in my pyjamas, and not go to the gym at all. And I still have moments when I'd love to devour unhealthy food in hopes that it might make me feel better than I'm feeling at that moment in time.

And that's the key.

Each time that I think about not working out, not eating well, or spiralling into some screwed up way of viewing myself and the world around me, I have to recall my past experience and know that if I don't workout; if I eat that pizza; or sit around calling myself 'fat' that I'm not going to feel any better at the end of the day. However, if I do workout; if I do eat a really healthy meal; or if I do take a moment to try on a new suit and admire the athletic figure before me, inevitably, I feel better. And that makes a whole lot more sense.

But I'm still working on it. And that's what matters most.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.